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Q & A: Al Achilat Matza (Conclusion)

QUESTION: I have noticed that when we eat the matza at the Seder on Passover, we recite the blessing of Hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz, followed by Al achilat matza. Why don’t we say Al achilat matza when we eat matza during the remainder of Passover?

Moshe Jakobowitz
Brooklyn, NY

ANSWER: We began our discussion with Rambam’s comments regarding the eating of matza on the first night of Passover, when it is obligatory. The mitzva of eating matza, unlike maror, is independent of the paschal sacrifice and it is a biblical requirement even today. One of the explanations of ‘lechem oni,’ as matza is called, is bread of the poor. The poor have only broken pieces instead of whole loaves. At the Seder we bless Hamotzi on two whole matzot and a broken piece (from the middle matza that has been broken in two). It is the broken matza, which symbolizes the uniqueness of eating matza on this night, that requires the blessing of Al achilat matza.

* * *

The Gaon R. Ovadia Yosef, shlita, was asked the following question: “On whom do those who have a custom to recite the blessing of Al achilat matza (“Asher ki’deshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu al achilat matza – [G-d] who has sanctified us with His commands and commanded us to eat matza”) during the seven days of Passover [in Israel], in addition to the Hamotzi blessing, rely? Or might this be a beracha levatala [lit., a blessing said in vain with the mention of G-d's name] and therefore we must abolish the custom” (Yechaveh Da’at Vol. 2:22).

Had R. Ovadia Yosef not been asked this question and included it in his responsa, I am sure that we would agree that this query is highly unusual, especially in light of all that we have discussed previously.

One may ask, to begin with, why this beracha is not recited each time, and the person who addressed the question to R. Ovadia Yosef has actually met people who do utter the blessing Al achilat matza on the entire seven days (eight in the Diaspora) of Passover, a very unusual custom.

In his answer, R. Yosef quotes the commentary of Rabbenu Zerachya HaLevi (known as the Ba’al Hama’or) at the end of Tractate Pesachim, who actually asks your question, and I assume your reasoning was the same as his: “There are those who ask, What is the reason that we do not utter the blessing Al achilat matza for the entire Passover, just as we say the blessing ‘Leishev basukka - to sit in the sukka’ for the entire seven-day period of Sukkot [even in the diaspora. The eighth day, however, is considered to be a separate holiday, a 'regel bifnei atzmo,' and we refer to it as Shemini Atzeret, a day on which we may, but are not
commanded, to sit in the sukka].”

The Ba’al Hama’or explains the reason for this question: “In the Gemara (Sukka 27a) we derive the mitzva to eat in the sukka from the mitzva to eat matza on Passover. [It says regarding Sukkot (Leviticus 23:39) '...on the fifteenth day of the month...' and it states regarding Passover (Leviticus 23:6) '...on the fifteenth day of the month...'. Thus we derive that] Just as matza on the first night is a requirement (chova) and from then and on it is optional (reshut), so, too, on Sukkot the first night is a requirement and successive meals are optional. We conclude regarding both mitzvot that they are similar in that the first night is a requirement and from thereon the mitzva’s performance is optional.”

The Ba’al Hama’or continues: “We might say that [there is a difference, as] it is possible for a person to survive the duration of the other days of Passover without consuming matza by satisfying his needs with rice or millet [these are not consumed by Ashkenazim on Passover according to our custom; Sepharadim, however, do use them] or various types of fruit. But as
regards Sukkot, since a person cannot possibly go for three days without sleep, and he is obligated to sleep in the sukka and ‘go for a walk’ (i.e., spend his leisure time) there, as the Gemara expounds (infra 28b) from the verse (Leviticus 23:42), ‘Basukkot teshvu… – In
sukkot shall you dwell…’ ‘shall you dwell’ implies that just as you dwell in your normal abode, in the same manner shall you dwell in the sukka. Therefore one is required for the duration of this holiday to recite at all the festive meals the blessing of Leishev basukka.

R. Ovadia Yosef notes: “We surmise from the style of his question that there is a mitzva to eat matza on all seven days of Passover, similar to the requirement of sitting in the sukka, and that which the Gemara states that the first night is a requirement while afterwards is optional, this does not mean completely optional. Rather, this is similar to what Tosafot explain – s.v.
‘Ve’ha’amar Rav, tefillat arvit reshut’ (Yoma 87b). [The Gemara notes Rav's statement that the Ma'ariv prayer is an optional prayer, which the Gemara finds to be contradictory to a previously stated halacha that one who prayed Ne'ila on Yom Kippur will thus have fulfilled his obligation of the Ma'ariv prayer that follows.] The rule that Ma’ariv is reshut applies only in
regard to allowing it to be superseded by a mitzva overet (lit., a mitzva whose time will pass by quickly, and one will not be able to accomplish it later on); but in ordinary circumstances we may not nullify its performance, as it was the Patriarch Jacob who instituted it and he did not institute it for naught, for it was created to correspond with the burning of remains of the burnt offerings and the fats, the ketoret ha’evarim vehapedarim, which lasted the entire evening. (Tosafot note the dispute in the Gemara – Berachot 26b – as to whether the Patriarchs established our daily prayers, or whether they were instituted only later as a replacement for the sacrifices, following the destruction of the Holy Temple. Even though the burning of the remains and fats is not a hindrance to the performance of the sacrificial reqirement, it is nevertheless a mitzva to burn them, and likewise the Ma’ariv prayer is a mitzva.

R. Ovadia Yosef thus leaves us with the impression that, indeed, one should utter the blessing Al achilat matza for the duration of Passover. However, he goes on to cite Sefer HaMichtam (Sukka 27a) and Orchot Chayyim (Hilchot Sukka 36), who both refer to R. Shakli. R. Shakli explains that the eating of matza is not for the sake of accomplishing the mitzva of eating (achilat matza); rather, since one is not allowed to eat chametz, one satisfies one’s hunger by eating matza. This is similar to one who eats the meat of a kosher animal - for surely he may not eat the meat of a non-kosher animal – and he does not specifically recite the (hypothetical) blessing, “asher ki’deshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu le’echol besar behema tehora – He (G-d) who has sanctified us with His commands and commanded us to eat the flesh of a kosher animal.”

R. Shakli then concludes: “However, as for sitting in the sukka, one does not do so to satisfy a personal need, but rather for the purpose of accomplishing the mitzva of eating in the sukka. Therefore he is required to utter the blessing Leishev basukka.

R. Yosef reasons that according to R. Shakli’s responsa there is no mitzva whatsoever to eat matza for the remainder of Passover, for it is just like one who eats kosher meat. R. Yosef refers to the Magen Avraham (Orach Chayyim 639), who also reasons similarly.

R. Yosef cites numerous other poskim who offer opinions on this matter. Notable is the Gaon R. Elijah of Vilna (HaGra), who took extra and loving care in the mitzva of eating matza all seven days of Passover, as the verse states, “Shiv’at yamim tochlu matzot.” We refer to it as reshut, or optional, only in comparison to the first day’s eating of matza which is obligatory
(chova); nevertheless, the eating of matza throughout Passover is a mitzvat aseh from the Torah.

The Gaon R. Isaac Palagi, notes R. Ovadia Yosef, discusses this in his Yafeh Lalev (vol. II 475:7). He states, “The Magen Avraham (Orach Chayyim 31:3) writes that according to those who say that we do not don tefillin on Chol HaMoed, the Intermediary Days of the festival [which are not considered a full-fledged Yom Tov not because of a prohibition regarding labor but rather because tefillin are considered an ot or a sign, for it states in Deuteronomy (6:8), '...u'keshartam le'ot al yadecha... - ...you shall bind them as a sign on your hand...'] because these days are themselves considered an ot, a sign. On Passover [this is accomplished] by
eating matza, and on Sukkot by sitting in the sukka.”

It would thus seem, as R. Yosef observes, that the eating of matza is a requirement all seven days of Passover, just as the donning of tefillin on weekdays [which it seems to supersede]. Therefore it would follow that we bless Al achilat matza every day of the seven days of Passover [eight days in the Diaspora], just as we recite a blessing each time we sit in the sukka and as we do when we don the tefillin every day.

However, Orchot Chayyim and the Kol Bo as well as many Acharonim note numerous reasons explaining why we do not make such a blessing on matza for the remainder of Passover, and conclude that indeed one should not do so. R. Yosef also cites Tosafot (Menachot 36b) s.v. “yatz’u,” who state, “The [distinguishing] sign of Passover is abstaining from eating chametz.” There is a physical and notable difference on Passover that serves as a distinguishing sign (ot), but a positive command to eat matza is not what is inferred. It is,
rather, the negative command not to eat chametz that serves as a sign. Thus surely we should not say Al achilat matza.

Interestingly, the Chatam Sofer (whom R. Yosef does not refer to) states (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 639): “The rule is ‘in sukkot you shall dwell seven days,’ which means that one dwells in one’s sukka as one does in the house, and only one who does not live in a house
all year long, such as a watchman in the fields (see Sukka 26a), would be exempt from sitting in the sukka. However, one who dwells in a house is required to sit in the sukka [and bless Lesheiv basukka]. We should say the same regarding [Passover, about which we know
that] ‘Seven days you shall eat matzot’; every day you are required to eat [and bless as well], but were it not for [what we learned in the Gemara, Pesachim 120a], “Six days shall you eat matzot…”

Thus it is clear to us – and R. Ovadia Yosef concludes similarly as well – that we do not recite the blessing Al achilat matza on the remaining days of Passover. R. Yosef points out that where this custom exists, it should be abolished.

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

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